What is the difference between a lawyer and a solicitor?

Ambigesh Sivapatham

by Ambigesh Sivapatham LLB (Hons), LLM, Solicitor

4 February 2020

The word lawyer often comes up in conversation - people will ask if a particular person "is a lawyer". The word is used often in the media, with well-known news outlets introducing interviewees as "lawyers"; Google also categorises many businesses as "lawyer" or "law firm" businesses.

Knowing exactly what a lawyer means is of particular importance to those needing some kind of legal help and not knowing how to proceed.

So what does everyone mean when they use the term "lawyer"?

Well, the first things that must be said is that the word "lawyer" is a generic and unprotected term. It may be used by anyone person who practices law. In the media, on the internet and in conversation, the word "lawyer" is often used to refer to solicitors or barristers.

As the common use of the word does not specifically designate a branch of the legal profession, some may look to using the generality of the the word for their own, unfair benefit. Some may refer to themselves as a "lawyer" or as a "law firm" without having the quality of training, education and accreditation that regulated members of the legal profession do have. Looking for a lawyer without knowing whether to look for a solicitor, barrister or other legal professional is like looking to buy medication by looking for a "medication salesperson" - you would hope to be directed to a licenced pharmacist and not a backstreet dealer.

We strongly urge any members of the public looking for legal services to seek out regulated legal professionals in order to reduce the risk receiving sub-par and inappropriate services and being left without recourse to regulatory protection. Here is a list of Approved Regulators under the Legal Services Act:

Law Society - "Solicitors"
Bar Council - "Barristers"
Master of the Faculties - "Notaries"
Chartered Institute of Legal Executives - "Legal Executives"
Council for Licensed Conveyancers - "License Conveyancers"
Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys - "Patent Attorneys"
Chartered Institute of Trade Mark Attorneys - "Trade Mark Attorneys"
Association of Law Costs Draftsmen - "Law Costs Draftsmen"

What is the role of a Solicitor?

There are two kinds of Solicitors: practising and non-practising. A practising solicitor is an individual who is a member of the Law Society and often regulated by the Solicitor's Regulation Authority. Due to the training and rigourous requirements to qualify, solicitors are often regarded as legal experts and can offer specialist legal advice. Solicitors make up the most significant chunk of the regulated legal services sector; there are approximately 150,000 practicising solicitors at the time of writing. Non-practising solicitors are solicitors who used to be practising solicitors, but for some reason e.g. retirement, have ceased to practice.

A register of solicitors can be found at the Law Society's website.

In addition to their legal expertise, solicitors can carry out what are called "reserved legal activites". These include:
- Representing people in Court;
- Dealing with court proceedings and paperwork;
- Preparing documents relating to land and real property, including property trusts and conveyances;
- Applying for Probate; and
- Administering Oaths.

Members of other Approved Regulators are permitted to carry out some or all of the reserved legal activites. It is an offence to carry out, or even pretend to be entitled to carry out, a reserved legal activity unless authorised or exempt.

Summary: The word "lawyer" often refers to solicitors or barristers, but be careful to look out for unregulated people posing as regulated professionals. A solicitor can provide expert legal advice and carry out most reserved legal activities, and is usually a one-stop shop for all of your needs in a particular area of law.

SIMO & Co Solicitors specialise in Business and Property Law related matters, handling both transactions and disputes. We also handle high-street matters such as Family Law, Wills, Probate and Immigration Law. If you need us to handle a transaction, dispute or simply need some legal advice, call us to book an appointment. We offer very reasonable fixed fee prices for expert service.

The opinions expressed in this article should not be construed as legal or financial advice, and should not be relied upon. If you require legal or financial advice, you should seek the assistance from a professional.

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